Frequently Asked Questions About Lake Norman
Everyone seems to have questions related to fishing on Norman and other area Lakes.
Some of the most frequently asked questions are addressed below.
- Where are the best places to fish from a boat on Lake Norman?
That depends on the season of the year and the species of fish you are after. As a rule, the islands adjacent to, and just north of the state park in the main river channel, produce lots of fish. Reed and Davidson Creeks at the lower end of the lake are also popular fishing areas. The hot holes yield bass year round and stripers, perch and cats are caught there in the winter. Other good bets are the bridges that crisscross the river and creek channels.
- What are the best live baits to use?
Again, it depends on the species you are targeting. Bass eat medium size shiners, shad, herring and bream. Stripers prefer larger shad, herring and shiners, along with five to twelve inch trout, bream and white perch. Flathead catfish feast on white perch, bream and channel cats like night crawlers, and blue cats like gold fish, black salty's and shad. Crappie eat small minnows, and bream (sunfish) munch on crickets and worms.
- What are the best artificial lures for catching bass?
- Soft plastics - worms, lizards and flukes
- Buzz and spinner baits
- Shad Rap (#5)
- What are the best colors to use for artificial lures?
Chartreuse, grey, silver, blue, black, crayfish and pumpkin seed are all good colors.
- Which birds make their nests on shoal and channel markers? Are they eagles?
The nesting birds are ospreys, not eagles. They are members of the hawk family, commonly known as “fish hawks” since their primary diet is fish. Because of their large wingspan, they are often mistaken for the much larger eagle.
- Is it true that catfish as big as stretch limousines swim near the dam?
Probably not! The largest catfish ever taken from Lake Norman weighed eighty-five pounds – a far cry from a four-thousand pound limo!
- When is the best time to fish in the summer?
Fish when the air temperature is the coolest and the hot sun is not shining on the water. That usually means fishing is best between dusk and dawn, or on cloudy days. July and August are great months to fish after dark, particularly around bridges, lighted boat docks and in the river channel at Cowan's Ford Dam.
- Why are there so many bass tournaments on Lake Norman?
There are two main reasons for the number of tournaments on Lake Norman. First and foremost, bass fishing is the best it has been in decades. The introduction of spotted bass gives tournament anglers a second black bass to target. Until the spotted bass’ introduction, Lake Norman only had largemouth bass.
Secondly, the promotional efforts of area hoteliers and restaurants, spearheaded by Visit Lake Norman ( www.visitlakenorman.org) and the Mooresville Convention and Visitors Bureau
( www.racecityusa.org ), has brought a great deal of attention to the fishery.
- Are white perch good to eat?
You bet! Their tender white meat is delicious when battered and deep fried.
- I do not have a boat. Where can I fish from the shore on Lake Norman?
- Ramsey Creek Park - Cornelius, NC - Fishing pier
- McGuire Nuclear Station - Huntersville, NC - Fishing pier and designated bank fishing area
- Marshall Steam Station - Terrell, NC - Designated bank fishing area
- Lake Norman State Park - Troutman, NC - Fishing pier and designated bank fishing areas
- What am I likely to catch on Lake Norman?
Largemouth bass, spotted bass, stripers, catfish, white perch, carp, crappie and bream.
- Which sport fish, other than bass, can I expect to catch?
Since there is no closed fishing season, stripers, catfish, crappie, white perch and sunfish can be caught year round.
- How big are the fish in Lake Norman?
Some are really big. A state record blue catfish was taken last year. It weighed eighty-five pounds. There are those that think (?) a hundred pound plus, blue is lurking near the dam. Several twenty pound striped bass were caught during tournaments this year. The state record spotted bass came from Norman. It tipped the scales at six pounds-five ounces.
- Can I catch trout, walleye and white bass?
High summer water temperatures combined with low levels of dissolved oxygen make it all but impossible for trout and walleye to survive in Lake Norman. White bass use to be plentiful, but have practically disappeared in recent years.
- Is fishing better above the Highway 150 Bridge?
Not, necessarily! There are times when Ramsey, Reed, Mountain and Hagers Creeks produce a lot of fish. Also, both hot water discharges are located below the 150 Bridge. Many people fish the north end of the lake because it has less open water and is easier to fish on windy days.
- When is the best time to fish?
As a rule fish bite best early in the morning and again just before dark. But, there are many occasions when fish feed aggressively through out the day. Spring is a preferred time by many, because fish are hungry and in shallow water. Night fishing is popular in the summer. Stripers like cold water, winter is a good time to fish for them.
- Where can I purchase bait and fishing tackle?
- Beaches Grocery - Highway 73, Stanley – 704-827 2188
- Quick Stop - Highway 16, Denver – 704-483 1781
- Triangle Food Mart - Highway 16, Denver – 704-483 3490
- Balls Creek Bait & Tackle - Highway 16, Newton – 828-464 0904
- Piedmont Bait & Tackle - Highway 150, Lincolnton – 704-735 4416
- Tackle Town - Cousin Lane, Maiden – 704-483 1007
- Terrell Bait & Tackle - Highway 150, Terrell – 828-478 2024
- Midway Marina - Highway 150, Terrell - 828-478 2333
- Perth Bait & Tackle - Perth Rd., Troutman – 704-528 4826
- Gander Mountain - Mooresville, NC
- Bass Pro Shops - Concord Mills Mall
- Wal-Mart - Various locations
- Dicks - Various locations
- I thought Striped Bass were a saltwater fish?
They are, but they swim up freshwater rivers to spawn. Stripers are able to adapt and can live in freshwater lakes when conditions are right. Most land-locked striped bass are stocked by wildlife agencies. As is the case on Lake Norman.
- What type of fishing outfit is best?
Light-to-medium t weight spinning or bait casting tackle can be used for most fishing situations.
- Who needs a fishing license?
Anyone sixteen and over who fishes in public waters is required to have a valid fishing license. Licenses can be purchased at most area shops and at department stores that sell bait and tackle, on line at www.ncwildlife.org, by phone at 888-248-6834, or by mail at N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, 1751 Varsity Drive, Raleigh, NC 27606.
- Where can I get a North Carolina State Fishing License?
Walmart, Dicks, The Denver Sportsman and Piedmont Bait & Tackle as well as most bait shops that surround the lake sell fishing/hunting licences. Licenses can also be acquired on line at www.ncwildlife.org
- How deep is Lake Norman?
The average depth of Lake Norman is twenty-five feet. At full pond, the deepest point is 130 feet. Most baits are fished at fifty feet or less. However, catfish and stripers have reportedly been caught at depths to 100 feet.
- What are the most popular live baits?
Popular live baits are worms, crickets, shad, herring, trout, minnows, shiners and bream.
- What is the best type rod and reel to use for most fish on Lake Norman?
Light-to-medium spinning tackle will handle most species. Try a 6-7' rod with matching reel and 8-12 lb. test line.
- How many poles/fishing rods can I fish with?
You may use as many as you like. There is no limit on the number of poles/rods one may use.
- What colors work best when fishing with artificial lures?
White, chartreuse, brown, gray and silver are all good colors to use.
- Is there a closed season for bass?
No. Bass and other warm water species of fish can be taken year-round on Lake Norman.
- What are the sizes and creel limits for fish caught on Norman?
Currently, there is no size or creel limit on catfish, white perch or bream.
|Largemouth and Spotted Bass
||Five fish in aggregate
||14" - two may be less than 14" inches
| Spotted Bass-
||12" - two may be less than 12" inches
|Striped Bass (Stripers)-
||16" - 4 fish per angler per day
||8" - 20 fish per angler per day
- Which fish are caught during the winter months?
Some species of fish bite every day of the year on Lake Norman. Winter is the preferred time for stripers, although they can be caught twelve months of the year. Bass, perch and catfish are most active from spring through fall. They also bite during the winter. Tasty crappie can be found around deep cover.
- What are spotted bass? Where did they come from?
The spotted bass has a mouth that is smaller than a largemouth bass and larger than a small mouth bass. It has a distinguishing rough patch on its tongue which allows it to securely hold a crayfish in its mouth before digesting it. Spotted bass were stocked in Lake Norman from a strain of bass native to Alabama.
The spotted bass is not a hybrid, but in fact, one of seven distinct species of black bass.
- How many striped bass are stocked in Lake Norman annually?
Approximately 162,500 fingerlings, roughly five fish per acre, are stocked annually by the North Carolina Wildlife Commission. The survival rate is estimated to be about ten percent, which leaves only 16,250 to grow to the legal size limit of twenty inches.
- I heard about a striped bass kill this summer. Are there any stripers left?
Yes, there are still stripers in the lake, but not nearly as many as before. Approximately seven thousand adult fish floated to the surface in July and August, while an undetermined number where eaten by catfish and other scavengers. This incident, combined with two others in recent years, has resulted in a devastating loss to one of the lake’s most popular game fish.
- How did Arkansas Blue Catfish get in Lake Norman?
In 1966, the North Carolina Wildlife Commission stocked the lake with four thousand blue cats. Today, they are plentiful and range in size up to eighty five pounds.
- I have a bow-rider pleasure boat. Can I fish from it? If so, how?
People have fished from pleasure boats for years while drifting, trolling, or anchored. Creative boaters mount removable electric trolling motors and rod holders on pleasure vessels.
- How do you catch bait fish such as shad and herring?
A cast net is thrown over a school of bait. The bait becomes trapped when the net closes and is then pulled in. Cast nets range in size from four to twelve feet in length and open in a circle to a diameter double the length. First time bait casters should learn casting fundamentals by using a four to six foot net.
- Are fish caught from the lake safe to eat?
NCWRC News Release: Raleigh, N.C. May 25, 2006 - Largemouth bass and wild-caught catfish, two popular game fish in North Carolina's freshwaters, have been added to the N.C. Division of Public Health's (NCDPH) list of fish in the state with high levels of mercury. As a result of these listings, the agency recommends that women of childbearing age (age 15-44), pregnant and nursing women, and children under age 15 refrain from eating these fish. All other adults should eat only one serving per week.
Largemouth bass, originally listed as high in mercury in only a portion of the state, is the first freshwater fish to make the list statewide. Wild-caught catfish, along with bowfin, chain pickerel and warm mouths, are considered high in mercury when caught south and east of Interstate 85. In addition to these fish, more than 16 saltwater fish species are listed as having high mercury levels. Among them are albacore (canned white tuna), South Atlantic grouper, king and Spanish mackerel and shark.
The largemouth bass is one of the most popular game fish in the southeast. Catfish have their share of avid anglers, as well. This advisory, however, should not keep people from eating fish. "While largemouth bass and wild-caught catfish pose some health risks if consumed, there are still plenty of fish out there that are good to eat, and more importantly, good for you," said Bob Curry, chief of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission's Division of Inland Fisheries, which manages freshwater fisheries in North Carolina.
Freshwater fish considered low in mercury and safe to eat include, bluegill sunfish, farm-raised catfish, farm-raised crayfish, tilapia and trout. Safe saltwater species are salmon, flounder, canned light tuna, pompano and a variety of shellfish, such as shrimp, scallops and oysters. For a complete list of freshwater and saltwater fish people should eat or avoid, visit the N.C. Division of Public Health's Web site.
- How long did it take to fill Lake Norman with water?
Eleven months. Read more about Lake Norman's history here.
- Do I need a license to operate a boat on Lake Norman?
No. However, all boaters are urged to take a boater safety course before operating any vessel. The next scheduled boater safety class will be September 10, 2005 at Davidson College. Call the Lake Norman Sail & Power Squadron at 704-895-6993 for more information.
- Do fishermen really use rainbow trout for bait?
Yes. Hatchery raised trout are sold at area bait and tackle shops during the winter months. Three to eight-inch trout are hearty baits and make tasty treats for Lake Norman's striped bass. Bait trout that escape being eaten, usually perish during the summer months.
- Will the Bassmasters hold another tournament on Lake Norman next year?
Yes. The 2006 event scheduled for July 27- 29 will be a Women's Bassmaster Tour Event headquartered at Blythe Landing in Huntersville, NC. During the same week, the Citgo Bassmasters Tour Event for men will be held on Lake Wylie.
- How old is a twenty inch striped bass?
Depending on conditions, it takes a striper three or more years to reach a length of twenty inches and a weight of 4.0 to 5.5 pounds.
- What is the largest striped bass ever caught on Lake Norman?
Official lake records have not been kept, but several stripers in the thirty pound range been taken over the years. One of the largest was a thirty-four pounder caught by Mooresville resident, Sam (Rawhide) Newman in 2000.
- A proposed regulation reduces the size limit of a striper from twenty to sixteen inches. What effect will this have on fishing?
The two largest area striper fishing clubs are opposed to the change, unless a significant increase occurs in the number of stripers stocked annually. Many fishermen believe that the proposed regulation will dramatically reduce the already depleted stock.
- Where do the sea gulls and terns that winter on the lake come from?
Some think they fly south from the Great Lakes and from TVA impoundments. According to Gene Vaughan, a Duke Power biologist, they migrate from the coastal plains of NC. He says, "They fly inland during the winter, but few, if any, become permanent residents."
- What are the big nests I see on the shoal markers around Lake Norman?
The nests are built by ospreys, raptors commonly called "fish hawks." These large birds have nostrils that close to keep the water out when they dive. They use their large talons to snatch fish from the water.
- What are the long nosed, snake-like fish that swim around my dock?
More than likely the fish you are seeing are gar. The elongated garfish has a long nose full of needle sharp teeth. The gar's flesh is editable, but the roe is said to be poisonous.
- Is there a speed limit for boats on Lake Norman?
Lake Norman doesn't have a speed limit in open water. However, a No Wake Zone exists within fifty yards of any bridge or other man made structure. Also, there are certain areas designated by the Lake Norman Marine Commission and NC Wildlife as No Wake Zones. These are identified by "No Wake Buoys."
Terry Davis of the Mecklenburg County Lake Patrol says, "There is not an absolute speed law, however, there is a reckless operation statue on the books. It states that anyone who operates a vessel in a manner that puts persons or property at risk is considered reckless operation. This is a Class 2 misdemeanor under NC sentencing guidelines."
- Boats are getting bigger and bigger on Lake Norman. Is there a size limit?
"There is no set size limit for recreational vessels at this time," said Lake Patrol Officer, Terry Davis. He further states that, "Boat operators are responsible for any damage caused by the vessel's wake."
- Up north, we had a closed season on bass fishing. What are the regulations on Lake Norman?
Lake Norman does not have a closed fishing season. Anglers can fish year round for any species, except grass carp.
- Where is Blue Heron Island?
There are two islands just south of Markers D4 and D6 in Reed Creek. Blue Heron Island is the smaller of the two and the closest one to Marker D6. It is a major rookery for Great Blue Heron that live in the lower part of Lake Norman. Since the island is off limits to visitors during nesting season, bring binoculars to view the birds.
- I see signs and buoys that say "No Wake." How fast can a boat go in a "No Wake" zone?
"No wake" means, "No Wake!" If you can see a wake behind the boat, you are going too fast. Boat wakes are like fingerprints. Each one is different. Wakes might vary with the way the boat is loaded. Some boats might produce a wake at one mile per hour and others at three.
- I read that grass carp are stocked in Lake Norman. Are they edible?
Yes, they are edible, hard fighting fish. But, it is illegal to have one in your possession. Grass carp are stocked to control the spread of Hydrilla and other exotic weeds.
- What types of fish are stocked in Lake Norman?
Striped bass and grass carp are the only species stocked regularly in Lake Norman. Bass, catfish, perch and crappie reproduce naturally each year, so regular stockings are not required.
- When is the best time to fish?
Fish bite year round on Lake Norman. Spring and early winter are preferred fishing periods for many anglers. Regardless of the time of year, get an early start. Fish seem to bite best when the sun begins to rise. Daylight is also the time that little, if any, pleasure boat traffic is on the lake.
- Are rumors true that divers have seen giant catfish swimming in the deep water near the dam?
It depends on how big a giant catfish is! Reports of big catfish sightings abound each year. The biggest catfish ever caught on a rod and reel in Lake Norman weighed eighty-five pounds. Some anglers surmise that a five foot, hundred pound Arkansas blue cat will be caught this year.
- How do I get help in an emergency if my boat is in a dead cell phone area?
The old stand-by is to wave your arms, a flag, shirt, etc. when a vessel passes. Another option is to install a marine band VHF radio. Channel 16 is monitored by the Lake Patrol, Coast Guard Auxiliary, NC Wildlife Officers and other boaters equipped with VHF radios.
- At what lake level will area boat ramps be closed?
Long Island Access Area - 91.0 or 9.0' below full pond
Stumpy Creek Access Area - 91.0 or 9.0' below full pond
Pinnacle Access Area - 91.5 or 8.5' below full pond
McCrary Creek Access Area - 91.5 or 8.5' below full pond
Hagar Creek Access Area - 91.5 or 8.5' below full pond
Little Creek Access Area - 93.0 or 7.0' below full pond
Beatties Ford Access Area - 91.0 or 9.0' below full pond
Blythe Landing - 95.0' - Closed
Ramsey Creek Park - 96.0' - Closed
- What is full pond?
When Lake Norman is at full pond, the water level is 760' above sea level and is stated at 100.0 in area newspapers. Again, a lake level of 95.6' means the lake is 4.4' below full pond.
- What effect does low water have on boating and is it safe to be out there?
Don't be intimidated by Lake Norman's low water levels. Popular areas of the lake still have plenty of deep water. Many dangerous shoals are exposed, which makes it easier than ever to navigate. To be safe, stay in the main channel or in familiar waters.
- Is it true that Smallmouth Bass, Trout and Walleye are caught regularly on Lake Norman?
No. These coldwater fish generally live in mountain lakes and streams.
- Do trout, walleye or northern pike live in Lake Norman?
No. They are considered cold water fish that require cooler temperatures and more dissolved oxygen than Lake Norman can provide.
- What types of fish swim in Lake Norman?
Bass (largemouth and spotted), crappie, white perch, catfish and stripers are the most sought after species. Each has a preferred season, but can be caught year round.
- Which baits are best?
That depends on what you are fishing for. Regardless, about everything that swims will take a worm or a lively minnow. Bass are generally caught on artificial lures, catfish bite fresh cut and prepared baits, stripers take lures and dead or live shad/herring, crappie can't resist minnows and jigs, and white perch prefer shiny lures, worms and minnows.
- Who needs a fishing license?
All residents and non-residents over the age of sixteen are required to have a fishing license. Licenses can be purchased on line or at area tackle shops and sporting goods stores. For more information, visit www.ncwildlife.org.
What is a snakehead? Are there snakeheads in Lake Norman?
|Photo of Snakehead fish courtesy of State of Florida's DNR.
The northern snakehead is a long slender fish that closely resembles a bowfin (mud fish). Snakeheads can live out of water for short periods of time. It is an aggressive predator and has been known to displace native fish populations in areas where it has been illegally introduced. Although none have been reported in Lake Norman, one confirmed catch and release did occur on the Catawba River near Belmont, NC in the spring of 2007. The fish weighed thirteen pounds and measured thirty-one inches long. Wildlife officials are asking anglers to keep and report (1-800-662-7137) any fish suspected as being a snakehead.
- How big are the fish?
Most range in size from six to twenty-five inches and weigh up to five or six pounds. The biggest fish in the lake are catfish. Several years ago, an eighty-five pound blue catfish was caught. Some people believe that a hundred pounder is lurking around for some lucky angler to catch.
- What is the biggest fish ever taken from Lake Norman?
It is believed to be an eighty-five pound Arkansas blue catfish caught a few years ago near the Long Island Marina. Some suggest there are even bigger catfish in Lake Norman, possibly weighing as much as one hundred pounds.
- Can I spend the night on Lake Norman’s Islands?
No! According to information posted at NCWRC Boat Access Areas, no night time use is permitted from sunset until sunrise. In addition, no permanent structures are allowed, and no fires, littering or removal of vegetation.
- Which Marina’s offer Pump Out / Dump Out Stations on Lake Norman?
According to signage posted at NCWRC Boat Access Areas, the following marinas provide pump out service: The Boat Rack, Holiday Harbor Marina, Inland Sea Marina, Skippers Landing (Morningstar), Westport Marina, River City Marina, Peninsula Yacht Club, North Harbor, The Landings Restaurant, North Bridge Marina, Midway Marina, Long Island Marina, Kings Point Marina, Lake Norman Marina and Mountain Creek Marina.
- How do you catch gar?
Since garfish have a mouth full of teeth, it is best not to fish for them. If you must, cast a strip of fresh cut fish hooked to a line without any weight. Cast in front of a gar swimming on the surface. Let the bait sink slowly, and the gar will more than likely bite it as it falls. Another technique is to cast a plastic worm, also without a weight, over its nose. A gar will often snap at the bait as it is being retrieved.
- What’s the best time to catch gar?
Most gars are caught during the spring and summer months while cruising the surface. Unlike other species on Lake Norman, garfish prefer bright sunlight and can be taken throughout the day around boat docks and in shallow coves.
- When is the best time to fish during the summer?
Fish when the air temperature is the coolest and the hot sun is not shining on the water. That usually means fishing is best between dusk and dawn, or on cloudy days. June thru August are great months to fish after dark, particularly around bridges, lighted boat docks and in the river channel at Cowan's Ford Dam.
- What fish, other than bass, can I expect to catch on Lake Norman?
Since there is no closed fishing season, striped bass, hybrid striped bass, catfish, crappie, white perch and sunfish can be caught year round.
- How many poles/fishing rods can I fish with on Lake Norman?
You may use as many as you like. There is no limit on the number of poles/rods one may use.
- What is full pond?
When Lake Norman is at full pond, the water level is 760' above mean sea level and is stated to be at 100.0’ in area newspapers. The targeted lake level during the summer months is 98.0’ or 2.0’ below full pond.
Future columns will attempt to answer other questions. If you have one of your own, email "Fishing With Gus" at Gus@LakeNorman.com.